Li Keqiang’s presence at Macau forum speaks volumes about city’s valuable Portuguese links

Jiang Xun says the premier’s support underlines Macau’s key role as a bridge between China and the Portuguese-speaking world, particularly in light of mutual ‘Belt and Road’ aims

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 October, 2016, 3:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 October, 2016, 7:33pm

Acting as host for major international forums, or “host diplomacy”, has been a highlight of China’s foreign policy this year.

Macau’s ties with Portuguese-speaking countries make it a perfect location for China to engage in host diplomacy under the Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries, also known as Forum Macau.

This week’s event made international headlines as Premier Li Keqiang ­( 李克強 ) attended the opening ceremony; the first visit by a central leader since President Xi Jinping (習近平) arrived in 2014 to mark the 15th anniversary of Macau’s return to China.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang gives Macau his seal of approval

Host diplomacy involves high-level, large-scale and far-reaching events. Recent examples include the G20 summit in Hangzhou, the Boao Forum for Asia and the First Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting.

Since the introduction of the idea in 2014, China has been a frequent and skilful user of host diplomacy to flex its muscles on the world stage, in interactions both bilateral and multilateral. In the latest example, Forum Macau involved Brazil, Portugal, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and East Timor.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang flies in to chart Macau’s new course

The highlight was the “Belt and Road” initiative, with discussions on finding common ground to develop opportunities, and how the initiative could link up with development strategies of the Portuguese-speaking countries.

Since the launch of Forum Macau in 2003, cooperation with China has grown rapidly for these countries, where cumulative direct investment by China reached US$6.3 billion at the end of 2015, and Chinese have directly invested in more than 400 enterprises.

However, the slowing global economy saw trade volumes between China and Portuguese-speaking countries decline in 2015, amid falling commodity prices. At the forum, agreements were signed to specify the areas and direction of cooperation in the next three years.

Some forum members already have their own development plans related to the Belt and Road project.

East Timor emphasised its geographical advantages in connecting with Asia, Australia and the South Pacific islands; Cape Verde has plans to be a commodity and services hub; and, Portugal is looking to make the port of Sines a gateway for its Chinese partners to enter Europe.

Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui arrives in Portugal to talk cooperation with China

Li’s visit sent out an important message: Macau not only helps small and medium-sized enterprises in forum nations do business with China; the former Portuguese colony can also serve as a bridge to link China and Portuguese-speaking countries.

Jiang Xun is deputy editor in chief of Yazhou Zhoukan, and editor in chief of Zero New Media. This is translated from the Chinese